How I started my freelance career in Stockholm
Publish date: 16 February 2021
When I decided to move to Stockholm nearly five years ago, my plan was to continue working as a freelance writer. I had a good roster of clients in the UK and enjoyed the flexibility of being my own boss.
I began researching my new home and quickly realised that, working with my existing clients, the cost of living was higher than I could afford. I knew I would struggle to make ends meet and didn’t know a single soul in Stockholm, so resolved myself to finding a full-time job. As it turned out, this was the best move I could have made and one which helped me eventually find my way back to freelancing.
If you’re thinking of working as a freelancer in Stockholm, here are some tried-and-tested steps to help you get your venture off the ground.
Step 1: Build a network
Networking really is key to any successful freelancing career and everyone has their own preferred method of making new connections.
When I first moved to Stockholm, I worked as a copywriter for a global fashion brand. I not only made some great friends, I also started to build a small network. A year later, I began working in the commercial content department of an online news network. Through the role, I had the chance to build relationships with a fantastic mix of international and Swedish clients.
For those who aren’t lucky enough to land a job on arrival - or who want to start freelancing from the get-go - there are several networking meet-ups for English speakers. For example, Meetup arranges networking events for professionals from all backgrounds and there are often new events listed on event management website Eventbrite.
Step 2: Set up your business
Once you’ve decided to start your business, your first executive decision is whether to set up as a sole trader or a limited company. Sole traders are responsible for their business as a private person and don’t require starting capital. If you choose to set up a limited company, you’ll need at least SEK 25,000 (€2400) in share capital.
I chose to set up as a sole trader which meant registering with Skatteverket (the Swedish Tax Agency) and applying for F-Tax and VAT registration. If you have a Swedish Bank ID, you can do this yourself online or you can do it in person at the tax office. I registered in person as the forms are in Swedish and I wanted to make sure I was dotting my i’s and crossing my t’s. The staff were really helpful and within about twenty minutes all the forms were sent off for approval.
Step 3: Tools of the trade
As a sole trader, you’re responsible for keeping a record of all your business transactions. In other words, you need to save receipts, invoices, and other documents so that you can register and report them.
Everyone has their own system and there are various tools that can help you to stay on top of everything. I set up a Google spreadsheet to maintain records of who I’ve worked for and when, billable hours, and expenses. I also use a free service called Bokio to send invoices - it’s really handy because it does the maths for you, including working out moms (VAT) on invoices sent to Swedish clients.
Step 4: VAT declaration and tax return
Sole traders end up paying (around) 47 percent tax on the profit from their business. When you first register your business, you will be asked to estimate your annual profit. Using this, Skatteverket will tell you how much preliminary tax (tax paid monthly in advance of your income return) you will pay each month.
Submitting your tax return is probably the most daunting task of all, particularly if you don’t speak Swedish. It’s sent to Skatteverket at the year-end who will then work out your total tax liability. Depending on whether you have paid too much or too little preliminary tax, you will either pay more at the end of the year or receive a tax rebate. Numbers make my head spin which is why I have hired an accountant to do my income tax return for me.
There are also your VAT reports to consider. This refers to the Value Added Tax which is charged on the production and distribution of products and services. In Sweden, it’s known as moms and is reported monthly, quarterly or annually. My accountant will also handle this for me, but I do have freelancer friends who feel comfortable doing their tax returns and VAT reports themselves.
Ultimately, how you choose to operate your business is up to you but hopefully these steps will help you to hit the ground running. If you are looking for further information, the Verksamt website offers plenty of information in English or you can check out this guide produced by Invest Stockholm.